Your Minnesota Golden Gophers are 1-0 to start their #SpecialSeason after edging out the Oregon State Beavers 30-23 last night in the season opener at TCF Bank Stadium. It was an ugly win to the say least, but there was also good and bad mixed in there, as well. Let's talk about it.
Rodney Smith. With Shannon Brooks sidelined, Smith was the feature back for the Gophers, and he did not disappoint. He rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns, equaling his total from last season. We didn't see much of Kobe McCrary at all, and that was likely because Smith was doing his thing.
Tai'yon Devers. What a debut for a freshman defensive end who had zero recruiting buzz. Two strip sacks -- with both fumbles recovered by the Gophers and converted into touchdowns -- in his first game as a Gopher is impressive. This team is in desperate need of a strong pass rush, and Devers has the makings of a stud.
Ryan Santoso. Peter who? The former starting kicker was terrific punting the ball, pinning four of his six punts inside the 20-yard line, including one at the goal line. Emmit Carpenter also performed well at kicker, with three extra points and a clutch 45-yard field goal to give the Gophers the lead going into halftime.
The linebacker position. This was touted as the deepest position on the defense before the start of the season, and boy was that ever put to the test last night. The Gophers frequently employed the 4-2-5 with Jack Lynn and Julian Huff to match up against the Beavers' spread offense, which helped compensate for the fact that the linebacker corps was without two starters and their second string middle linebacker.
Mitch Leidner running the ball. The moose was loose at TCF Bank Stadium last night, as Leidner rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns -- breaking Rickey Foggie's career quarterback rushing touchdown record in the process. And can we talk about that pump fake in the red zone to neutralize an Oregon State defensive back and run for the first down? Beautiful.
Mitch Leidner passing the ball. In general, the Gophers struggled in the passing game and never quite found their rhythm. Leidner looked poised in the pocket and avoided turning the ball over, but he had his fair share of errant passes and poor decisions. He was without last season's go-to target, tight end Brandon Lingen, but Nate Wozniak and freshman receiver Tyler Johnson both had big catches throughout the game.
Penalties. The Gophers amassed eight penalties for a total of 70 yards. The pre-snap penalties were especially disappointing. That needs to be cleaned up. We'll get to the targeting penalties in a minute.
The secondary. Honestly, the secondary was alternately good, bad, and ugly at times, and I think most of us expected as much. Seniors Damarius Travis and Jalen Myrick are solid, but the youth and inexperience filling out the rest of the defensive backfield will have to suffer through growing pains over the next few weeks. Eight pass break-ups last night is good, but three touchdowns through the air is not.
Punt returns. Can we not? One half season of Craig James last season was enough nightmare fodder for Gopher fans. We don't need you adding to it, Drew Wolitarsky. His muffed punt in the second half led to an Oregon State touchdown and cost the Gophers the lead. Please don't do that again.
Targeting. Last night's Pac-12 officiating crew was a dumpster fire. I try to avoid talking too much about the officiating, but good grief. Not one, not two, but THREE targeting penalties against the Gophers sent Cody Poock, Jonathan Celestin, and Tai'yon Devers to the showers early. Celestin and Devers will also have to miss the first half against Indiana State next week as a result. What made it worse was that the refs swallowed their whistles later when a Beaver defender delivered a hit on Leidner that mirrored the Celestin hit that previously merited an ejection, and had to be coaxed into calling a personal foul committed against Leidner at the end of the game. With that said, Gopher defenders need to avoid anything even resembling helmet-to-helmet contact.
Botching the shotgun snap. Once is bad enough. But twice? Unacceptable. Bad shotgun snaps from center Tyler Moore that went over the head of Leidner effectively killed two offensive drives, with one costing the team 23 yards on first down and the other gave the Beavers a safety. That can't happen.
Defending the screen pass. Beavers running back Ryan Nall amassed 80 receiving yards on eight receptions, in large part from the screen pass. Thankfully, the Gopher defense figured out how to defend it before the Beavers' final drive of the game.
Anything I missed? That's what the comments are for. Unless you're going to pull a Glen Mason and wag your finger at Tracy Claeys for going for two after that last touchdown -- which would have put the game out of reach for Oregon State had the Gophers converted. He did the same thing in the same situation against Illinois last year and no one said boo about it because it worked that time. The Gophers have more pressing concerns.